India Knowledge @ Wharton | Managing emotions in the workplace

India Knowledge @ Wharton | Managing emotions in the workplace
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First Published: Mon, May 14 2007. 03 55 PM IST
Updated: Mon, May 14 2007. 03 55 PM IST
You know the type: Co-workers who never have anything positive to say, whether at the staff meeting or in the cafeteria line. They can suck the energy from a brainstorming session with a few choice comments. Their bad mood frequently puts others in one, too. Their negativity can contaminate even good news. “We engage in emotional contagion,” says Sigal Barsade, a Wharton professor who studies the influence of emotions on the workplace. “Emotions travel from person to person like a virus.”
Barsade is the co-author of a paper titled, Why does Affect Matter in Organizations? (“Affect” is another word for “emotion” in organizational behaviour studies.) The answer: Employees’ moods and dispositions have an impact on performance, creativity, turnover, teamwork, negotiations and leadership. Barsade says that while some people are better than others at controlling their emotions, that doesn’t mean their co-workers aren’t picking up on their moods. “You may not think you are showing emotion, but there’s a good chance you are in your facial expression or body language. Emotions we don’t even realize we are feeling can influence our thoughts and behaviours.”
Research suggests that positive people tend to do better in the workplace, and it isn’t just because people like them more than nay-sayers, Barsade notes. “If you’re in a negative mood, a fair amount of processing is going to that mood. When you’re in a positive mood, you’re more open to taking in information and handling it effectively.”
While you can’t always change your co-workers, you can avoid catching a negative mood, according to Barsade. People can tell themselves before a staff meeting that they are not going to be bothered by the person who shoots down everyone’s ideas, or that they are not going to let that person become the focus of their attention at the meeting. Or they can change their office routine. Barsade gave the example of a manager who was dragged down every day when passing by the desk of an employee who either grunted or gave no acknowledgement. The manager simply started following a different route through the office.
Citigroup increases its skilled headcount in India. Will others follow?
In late March, when Citigroup CEO Charles Prince visited India, his demeanour hardly showed the pressures induced by the massive global restructuring plan he was to announce two weeks later. He had good reason: Citigroup’s Indian arm has been one of its strongest international performers, and is becoming part of the solution as the corporation strives to cut costs and improve operational efficiency. In April, Prince announced 17,000 job cuts as part of a restructuring programme aimed at saving $2.1 billion (about Rs8,610 crore) this year, growing to $4.6 billion in 2009. In contrast, Citigroup is increasing its headcount in India. Citigroup will move more than 9,500 jobs to lower-cost locations within and outside the US, and two-thirds of that will go through attrition. India is expected to gain 8,000 of those jobs, including a select, but growing number of high-skilled functions.
How does the move alter perceptions of global job movement? Peter Cappelli, Wharton professor of management, says, “What’s different is these are the first white-collar jobs moving out (of the US). It does begin to give the lie to the promise of global trade that low-skilled jobs would go abroad, but the high-skilled jobs would expand in the US. That is the other part of this that has a lot of bite. The idea that globalization will divide neatly between high- and low-skilled jobs doesn’t play out any more.”
Could other companies follow Citigroup’s example by moving jobs across the skills spectrum to low-cost destinations? According to Cappelli, “Almost everybody expects this (trend) will expand. The question is whether it will continue to expand at the same rate and there will be a paradigm shift, or whether it is playing out more or less as the same story we’ve seen for a while.” What’s more, Cappelli argues that Citigroup could well be the bellwether of such trends. He suspects other CEOs will look at what Citigroup is doing and say, “Well, we ought to take a look at that, too.”
Scouting for the best athletes (or analysts): Character vs performance
When the Philadelphia Eagles, a perennial contender in pro football in the US, is checking out young prospects in advance of the annual National Football League draft, it certainly looks at each players’ time in the 40-yard-dash and contact his college coach. But the team is just as likely to?talk to the guidance counsellor or even the janitor at the young man’s high school to see how he treated other people in his?life.
That’s according to Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, who said during a recent panel discussion on “Leadership Lessons Learned from Sports”, that character and on-the-field leadership qualities count for more than raw athleticism in putting together the Eagles roster. The Eagles, in building a team that has been to the play-offs six of the last seven seasons as well as the 2005 Super Bowl, uses a battery of tests and evaluations in judging future draft choices that is more extensive than most Fortune 500 companies use when hiring MBAs.
Lurie was joined on the panel—part of the recent 2007 Wharton Economic Summit—by several other team owners or executives with a background in sports, to discuss whether the qualities of high-performing athletes apply to successful business people. According to panellist Mark Fisher, founder of MBF Clearing Corp., the largest clearing firm on the commodities exchange New York Mercantile Exchange (NYMEX), they do. Fisher told the panel that a disproportionately large number of the traders that he has hired for his firm have a background in college or professional sports. “As a trader, I have found that the qualities that made the best traders are the ones that make the best athletes.” Athletes may have a losing day on the field just as a trader will make a bad trade, he said, but the successful ones have the ability to move on.
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First Published: Mon, May 14 2007. 03 55 PM IST
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